The Big Green Parenting Experiment

raising a healthy family in a toxic world

holidays with toddler: notes for next season

The holidays are such a wonderful, magical time of year. Having a child puts a whole new exciting, and sometimes stressful, spin on things. We had a really great season filled with love, family, baking, delicious food, really delicious wine, toys and celebration. But all good things must come to an end and I am quite relieved that it’s over. At least until next year.

I wanted to make some notes of things that I’ve learned in an effort to have a smoother, even more enjoyable holiday season with toddler next year.

In no particular order:

1. No batteries! I wavered on this for this year, but there were some really great musical toys that we asked for for Schy. And she loves them, especially the woofer guitar. We did only receive a couple of battery operated toys this past year, but next year we are going battery free! Although she loves her guitar, she loves her new bristle blocks even more and they let her own creativity shine. Children learn so much more from toys that involve imagination, problem solving and creativity. Don’t you think that it would be cool to see the gifts people come up with? No list, no rules– just no batteries. Plus, battery free toys are a lot more fun and interesting for us to watch (and join in!).

2. Gender neutrality. Don’t get me wrong, we do own pink things. And Schy does have a particular fondness for bracelets. I was somewhat shocked on Christmas when a family member referred to Schy’s new blocks as ‘girl colors’. They’re just colors: blue, pink, green, yellow. I’d rather my daughter grow up feeling comfortable with any color toy (or otherwise) she chooses without being referred to as ‘girly’ or masculine. I’m not banning pink from the house, just moderation. The gender stereotypes, especially in toys, is outstanding. We try to buy gender neutral toys as much as possible and hopefully we can get everyone else on board too. At least until Schy can voice her own personal choices.

(My favorite color is blue.)

3. Give the child a break. The holidays are overwhelming for us as adults. Imagine how it must feel to a small person who is in the spotlight most of the day. Exhausting to say the least. It’s so easy for our little ones to become overstimulated with all of the people and toys and noise. I found that taking small breaks for a little quiet time were extremely beneficial for us. Schy is still nursing so it gave us an opportunity to slip away into a guest room and have some quiet time together. It gave us a chance to reconnect and for me to let her know how well she was behaving, sharing and interacting. It was peaceful and centering for us both. It’s amazing what a short quiet break can do. I plan to keep this one in my pocket for years to come.

4. Don’t stress. Our children feed off of our energy. When we’re stressed, they are likely to be stressed, which makes us more stressed… and so on. Relax. Enjoy. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember the things that are important during the holidays and teach them to your children. No one is going to remember that the ham was a little dry or that you forgot the eggnog. Everyone will remember the quality time spent together. Isn’t that what we want our children to learn? The holidays can be stressful, but we can manage that stress for the happiest holidays possible, for ourselves and for our most precious little ones.

There you have it. My list of ideas for enjoying, not just surviving, the holidays with small children. I’m feeling positive about taking on another round of the holidays! Of course, I would love to have an extra long, sunny summer in between.

Wishing everyone a spectacular new year filled with peace and happiness.

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acts of kindness: 4, 5, 6 & 7

The past week has been super hectic with Christmas and toddler. Now that the holiday is over we’re ready to get back on track sharing our acts of kindness.

kindness: act 4

On Sunday, in memory of Olivia Engel (7/18/06), we went to deliver Christmas gifts that we had collected for families in need. Unfortunately, the first family that we were scheduled to meet with never showed. I never heard from them again. From what I understand, this was a domestic violence situation and I am really, really hoping that those children had a good holiday. I’ve been wondering for days what the heck happened.

We were, however, able to meet with the second family. I was particularly excited about this one since the family lives in my [small] hometown! When we arrived I discovered that it was actually someone that I had graduated with. Clearly it has been a much different road for them than I have traveled since I graduated high school. It saddened me a bit at first, but then made me realize how fortunate I really am. And the important thing is that their daughter had a great Christmas! I received an email and a thank you on Christmas saying how much she enjoyed everything. Thanks to Olivia for making Christmas bright for another child!

kindness: act 5

Since our first family didn’t show up, I now had a pile of gifts and donations for children that weren’t going to be given. I was determined to find a home for these wonderful gifts, in honor of Josephine Gay (12/11/05). I hit the Internet with just hours before Christmas Eve. I decided to check the community board on Craigslist as one of my last efforts. I discovered a plea for help, not for herself, but for a neighbor that has had a streak of horrible luck and was unable to provide Christmas gifts for his 3 young children. I sent an email with fingers crossed and within an hour had heard back! I explained to her what we had and she was ecstatic! She was able to drive an hour on the morning of Christmas Eve to pick everything up. We were all so happy! We gave her a big warm hug and thanked her, explaining our 26 acts and that this one was for Josephine. I’ve never seen a more sincere smile. That was a truly great moment. A bunch of people pulling together for the good of others. Thank you for inspiring us to give it one last effort, Josephine!

kindness: act 6

In honor of Ana M. Marquez-Greene (04/04/06), we decided to leave Christmas cookies for our neighbors. We live pretty close together and have very different lifestyles (us: toddler that needs sleep, them: couple of rowdy teenagers with loud friends). We get along alright, but have had our disagreements. Since we made more cookies than we can should eat, we decided to surprise them with some, with a note about little Ana. Hope they enjoy them as much as I am!

kindness: act 7

This was our original act of kindness idea and we were super excited to carry it out, in memory of Dylan Hockley (03/08/06). We baked dozens and dozens of cookies on Christmas Eve and couldn’t wait to share. We made a nice big plate and brought them to our local volunteer fire department with a card expressing our gratitude. The fire fighters happened to be out on a call when we stopped so we left them by the door for them to find when they returned. Thank you, Dylan, for the inspiration to commit a generous act for such generous, selfless people.

To be continued…

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26 acts of kindness: 3

Kindness: act 3

Today we are honoring one of the wonderful teachers lost in the Sandy Hook tragedy, Rachel D’Avino (7/17/83). Schy and I baked some delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to share. Today we wrapped some up with ribbons and left them for our mail carrier, in our mailbox with the flag up. We are hoping that she will be pleasantly surprised and enjoy them while she finishes up her route. We also included a Christmas card, thanking her for her hard work and to let her know that the gesture was in honor of Rachel, one of the Sandy Hook victims. Thank you for today’s inspiration, Rachel.

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26 acts of kindness: 1 & 2

The Big Green Parenting Experiment observed a blogging day of silence yesterday, December 18, in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. I did, however, stay true to our 26 acts of kindness and will share those with you today.

Kindness: act 1

Yesterday, in honor of Charlotte Bacon (2/22/06), I did a little research and reached out to two local families in need of assistance with Christmas gifts for their children. There are many families out there that could use a hand in making Christmas special for their little ones, so my family and I are doing what we can to help. A little goes long way this time of year. I am very excited to have received some great donations from friends! I will be sure to let these families know when I deliver the gifts this weekend, that they are in honor of little Charlotte. Thanks to her inspiration, three needy children will have a merry Christmas this year.

Kindness: act 2

Today, in Daniel Barden’s (9/25/05) honor, Schy and I went on a mission to find a Salvation Army volunteer. They selflessly stand outside, ringing their bells in the cold December air for the good of others. We thought it would be nice to bring one a nice hot cup of coffee in honor of Daniel. Because of Daniel, that bell ringer is a little bit warmer and is reminded of the good in humanity. He was speechless, by the way.

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Kindness feels awesome!

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recycled newspaper gift bags

We get sooo many newspaper flyers in the mail without even subscribing to any newspapers. It’s mind numbing. They go directly from the mailbox to the recycling bin, day after day. Well, not anymore! This is a very simple, crafty little way to give your newspapers new life! I am totally in love with this idea! I spotted it on pinterest and knew that there was going to be plenty of these in my future! The possibilities are endless. I just can’t wait to add personal touches onto these fab little gift bags.

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The original post on pinterest is from How About Orange who received a recycled newspaper shopping bag from a retailer. She was inspired to create one of her own. Now I am inspired! Let’s do this.

What you’ll need:

  • newspaper
  • scissors
  • card stock
  • glue stick
  • twine
  • ruler

I started out by following the directions for the bag from the link on Pinterest. She walks you through creating the smaller bag, pictured above on the right. Once I mastered that one, I was ready to try variations.

Today’s project: a wine gift bag for a birthday party.

Wine gift bags are a bit easier since they are square so there is little measuring involved. You can easily customize to the particular bottle if you’d like. Today I’ll be making a bag for riesling which is generally a taller, thinner bottle than most so I am customizing a bit.

Bottle diameter = 3.5″
Total newspaper width needed – 15″ (3.5″ x 4 sides + ~1 inch for seam)

Bottle height = 16″
Total newspaper height needed – 19-20″
(16″ + 1″ for top edge + 2″ for bottom of bag)

Lay out two sheets of newspaper on a table or flat surface. Measure out the size of the newspaper you will need, in this case 16″ x 19″. Cut out. Tip: I found it easiest to glue the two sheets of newspaper together before cutting.

Once your cut piece is laid out, you will start folding, as follows:

1. Make a 1″ fold on one of the side edges. This will be where you glue the seam of the bag.

2. To make four equal width sides, fold the opposite edge of the paper in to the fold that you just made.

3. Fold in half again in the same manner.

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4. Fold 1″ to 1.5″ on the side that will be the bag opening AND make a 2″ fold on the opposite edge, which will become the bottom of the bag.

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5. Next you’ll need to cut two pieces of card stock: 1″ x the width of the side of the bag, in this case 3.5″. Glue them along the top edge of the bag in the first and third sections. These will help support the top of the bag when opened.

20121207-083447.jpg6. Next you will glue down the entire ‘flap’ on the top side of the bag. This will hide the card stock and give the top edge a finished look.

20121210-193246.jpg7. Now to form the shape of the bag, glue the first fold that you made on the side edge to the interior of the other edge. You can start to see it coming together.

20121210-193440.jpg8. And now to create the bottom of the bag, you simply fold the opposite sides in as if wrapping a gift and then glue the two remaining sides down one by one. I failed to take pictures of this process since both hands are necessary to make it work. I did find it easiest to rest the bag on a table while doing this step. Here is the completed bottom:

20121210-193858.jpg9. To complete the bag, you’ll just need to add some finishing touches. Measure a piece of card stock to glue on the bottom inside of the bag for additional strength. Poke (or punch) two small holes in the reinforced top sides of the bag, insert twine and tie off to make handles.

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Tada! A recycled newspaper gift bag! (The bag was just tall enough, despite how it looks in the picture. Next time I’ll add that extra inch.) I added some lime green tissue paper for a splash of color. So cute! I visualize making these with Schy for holiday gifts, maybe with red or green stamped snowflakes on them and ribbon handles! You can even use different appropriate sections of the newspaper for particular people: sports, real estate, etc.
I am totally digging these bags. They’re super creative (super cheap) and can easily be personalized! And it’s a useful way to use some of that newspaper that everyone has laying around! Try it out and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your creative ideas.

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the four gift rule

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Christmas is fast approaching and there’s one thing that is on everyone’s minds. Gifts. So, what do you think of this four gift rule? Do you think that gifts and wish lists have gotten out of hand?

I don’t ever ask for much, nor have I ever, really. But I guess I do remember feeling jealous over other kids who had been completely spoiled for Christmas. I usually try to go the thoughtful or handmade route and this year will be almost exclusively due to the ol’ budget.

Schy is only 15 months old and doesn’t watch television, so we haven’t yet had to deal with the child who wants it all. But that time will come. And, man, kids want so much crap! I had no idea how much plastic bull$@*# my house would be filled with. Combine this with the ridiculous amount of packaging… ugh. It’s an aspiring green parent’s worst nightmare. So wasteful. All they really want is pots and empty paper towels tubes anyway.

So I read this four gift rule somewhere and I thought it was awesome! People go so overboard and totally miss the spirit if the holidays. Parents literally trample each other on black friday Thanksgiving for the hot toy of the minute, only to be tossed aside as soon as the next thing comes out. It’s madness. Shameful, really.

I’m really considering this rule for our family. I haven’t spoken to the husband about yet, so we’ll see what he thinks. I think it’s a good guide to keeping the gifts in check. And there’s still room for just a little spoiling since those wants can get pretty expensive. (Thanks Apple!) Christmas isn’t about how many gifts you get. It’s about giving, family, spending time with the ones you love. Oh, and cookies!

I’d love to hear some thoughts on this! Do you practice a ‘rule’ for gift giving? How do you help your children understand what the holidays are about without going overboard with gifts? Please share!

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holiday penguin hors d’oeuvres!

Today I’d like to share a Thanksgiving staple in my family. It’s a fun little hors d’oeuvre that is perfect for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any gathering, really. It is a real crowd pleaser and if I ever showed up at Thanksgiving dinner without them I may not get in the door!

You will need:

2 8oz. packages of cream cheese (spreadable or softened)
3-4 medium sized carrots
3-4 cans of large olives
Serving tray
Toothpicks
Piping bag (not necessary but speeds the process tremendously)

We have been making these for years so we have developed a pretty efficient system. It’s easiest if you prep everything first and then assemble the little guys.
To prep, you’ll need to slice a small wedge out of half of the olives (~2 cans). Peel and slice 2-3 carrots into ~1/8″ slices. Peel and slice 1 carrot the same, only you’ll need to cut these slices into wedges for beaks.
This is what your prepped penguin parts should look like:

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With your piping bag filled with softened cream cheese, fill the olives that you removed a sliver from. These will be your penguin bodies. Make sure you fill them enough that they are nice and plump with plenty of white showing.

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For the penguin heads you’ll take the slivered carrot beaks and stuff them into the ‘x’ of the remaining (whole) olives.
At this point take a round cookie sheet or serving dish and spread a nice layer of cream cheese over it. This will be your iceberg and hold the penguins in place… momentarily… before they’re devoured.
You are now ready to assemble your penguin army. Stick a toothpick through a penguin head, followed by a body and then a carrot slice for feet.
Tadaa! An adorable, tasty penguin.

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Stand him up on your serving iceberg and repeat until you run out of parts. Here is our finished tray of deliciousness:

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This is a seriously simple hors d’oeuvre that kids of all ages will love. We have a pseudo-brother-in-law that literally squeals with delight when the penguins arrive. (He’s in his forties, by the way.) His reaction alone makes these handsome little devils worth the effort. Next time you’re stumped on what to bring to that holiday party give these a try and see the fantastic reactions you get! Just be warned… you may be expected to bring them every year to follow. Enjoy!

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day 22: 30 days of thanks

This may sound pretty strange, but tonight I am thankful to be broke. Living on one income has been pretty tough and it has forced us to make certain sacrifices, Christmas gifts being one of them. Of course, we’ll figure out how to make it work for the kids, but there really isn’t anything that we need.
I feel for the people tonight whose holiday was cut short or didn’t have a holiday at all because they had to work. Shame on us for not being able to wait until black FRIDAY to begin the Christmas madness!
I feel so much less stress over the holidays this year since we are not able to buy gifts. Would it be nice? Sure. But honestly, I don’t feel like we’re missing out. It allows us to truly focus on the spirit of the holidays. It’s not about gifts at all. And sometimes it takes a little financial hardship to snap us back to reality and truly appreciate what is important. So I’m thankful for these tough times, and more specifically, the invaluable lessons that I am able to learn from them.

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day 21: 30 days of thanks

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for holidays. I am thankful that my families are able to gather and celebrate. I am thankful that we are all able to be together. I am thankful that I am no longer in the restaurant business, because although the money on holidays was great, it was not worth more than the time that could have been spent with loved ones.
Now that the years are passing more and more quickly, I find that I am more appreciative of these days spent celebrating together. I’m also thankful to experience each holiday in a new and different way now that I have my own little one. I am, essentially, thankful to give thanks… and for all other holidays in between. May we always remember what is truly important on these most special of days.

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handprint turkeys!

Who doesn’t remember making handprint turkeys as kids?? Now that Schy is a toddler, I thought it would be fun to make handprint turkey cards for our family. It was Schy’s first experience with finger paint and she loved it! Mama’s girl! This craft is so simple and there’s still time to whip some up for your family before turkey day.

You will need:
Card stock, a light color to paint and a dark color for matting
Non-toxic washable paints (brown, red, orange, yellow)
Paint brush
Palette
Sponge or damp towel
Glue stick
Pens for details (brown, orange)
One tiny hand

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I started by having everything ready. Knowing the attention span of a 14 month old, I wanted to be prepared to make handprints quickly and wipe the paint off right away. I spread a thin layer of brown paint on a plastic plate, had the card stock laid out and was prepared with a damp towel. Next, the toddler. I pressed her hand into the paint before each print, four per sheet of card stock.

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Once the handprints were dry, I used a dry brush to tap some colored feathers on each finger and a dab of red for the waddle. That coat dried pretty quickly so I could add eye, beak and leg details with the pens. I then cut the turkey’s out with scalloped scissors and framed them on orange card stock.

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For a finishing touch we wrote ‘I am thankful for my family!’ on the back of each person’s card with Schy’s name and the year. In future years it’ll be fun to have her tell us what she is thankful for. These came out super cute and I’m sure her family will just love them when she hands them out on Thanksgiving! It’s such a cute, personal little keepsake and one that took just minutes to make. Next year we’ll make our finger paints!

How do you involve your little ones in the holidays?

Wishing all of my readers a safe and Happy Thanksgiving with the ones you love!

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